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Showing posts with label police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police. Show all posts

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A new age of unreason

On a television talk show recently in which I was a participant, the question posed was “Have opposition politicians misunderstood the nature of lobbying?” The moderator went straight for the jugular, asking the BJP spokesman to defend the assertion of a senior leader of his party, who had asserted in Parliament that lobbying is illegal in India.

The anchor said his due diligence had satisfied him that lobbying is not illegal. Somewhat disingenuously and with the brash confidence of a man who knows little, the BJP participant contradicted him, saying there is no law that makes lobbying legal. To which the anchor responded: laws make things illegal, not legal. The BJP man was having none of it. “Why are you standing up for a corrupt company like Walmart?” he asked the journalist. “How can the spokesman of a leading political party accuse an international firm of corruption on prime time national TV?” I interjected. The BJP stalwart was undeterred and continued his rant, insisting lobbying is illegal and no different from corruption. It was plain that he knew very little about business processes and public policy apart from a few stray facts he may have picked up from newspapers.

Later, Delhi’s middle classes led by Left-leaning student unions took to the streets to protest the rape of a woman on a bus in the capital. Their demand was for the police chief, the chief minister and the Union home minister to resign. Granted, the police in Delhi are not very high on anyone’s security assurance list, and that one may have reservations about the Congress governments in the state of Delhi and at the Centre. But, the heinous crime was committed by violent psychopaths, like the shooter in Newtown, Connecticut. I didn’t hear any calls for Obama’s head or of the state governor or police chief. Crimes are mostly dealt with in retrospect, except in the Tom Cruise sci-fi film, Minority Report, which is about seers gifted with the ability to look into the future and prevent crime.

Crimes are committed the world over and sometimes law enforcement agencies are able to anticipate and prevent them. Mostly, they simply happen and police hunt down the perpetrators and turn them over to the criminal justice system for prosecution and, if proved guilty, punishment.

Then there’s the massive media hype about Narendra Modi winning a third term in Gujarat. The truth is he won by a smaller margin than five years ago; even his vote share has declined. Yet the talking heads and anchors of cable television and newspaper reporters would have us believe he will be the next prime minister of India. This is an individual who refuses to apologise for the riots that killed thousands in Gujarat when he was chief minister as well as home minister. While he has never been able to shake off allegations that he connived with mass violence, there’s no doubt he should be held responsible because he was the man in charge.

Every time this issue is raised in public, his supporters who are few but loud, raise the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Both incidents, 18 years apart, involved a lapse of governance leading to wanton loss of life and are condemnable. Except in the Gujarat case, the riots were followed by the systematic boycott of victims which pushed them into ghettos, a situation that persists to this day. Modi’s triumphalism and communalism is shameless and unapologetic as evident by his reference to Congress member Ahmed Patel as Ahmed mian.

A common thread runs through these narratives: lack of reasoned discourse. Between the media, opposition politicians and sundry activists outraged by some atrocity or corruption, debate has transformed into noise in which prejudice is the norm. The talking heads of television, pundits of print and those who attend exclusive parties in the capital, talk at each other without the slightest deference to reality. Did Walmart bribe government officials? Was Sheila Dikshit asleep when the heinous rape took place? Will Modi be the next prime minister? These are the questions being debated in public. Walmart may well have indulged in corrupt practices; there is an internal inquiry and some executives of the company have been suspended. The Delhi chief minister reacted with powers under her control — and that excludes the Delhi police — by scrubbing the licence of the operator on whose bus the woman was raped. And Modi actually lost ground in Gujarat; he still has a brute majority but his national ambitions have dimmed.

The Age of Unreason is upon us. People who would normally know better, including businessmen, members of the academy, activists, journalists and other groups which influence public opinion, seem to have lost their bearings. Pursuing their own limited agendas, they have put a crimp on Indian modernisation. As a concerned Indian citizen, “J’Accuse”, in the words of French writer Emile Zola. But while Zola complained about anti-Semitism in France, my complaint is about anti-Congressism. It seems to me that the entire political debate in India is focused on this grand old party. Those who hate it have forums to express themselves; those who are voiceless seem to vote for it, even in Gujarat.

The Age of Unreason is what 21st century’s second decade will be called in India. Everyone shouts and postures. And judgment seems to have fled to brutish beasts.

This article appeared in Education world magazine in January 2013 issue.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good Policy

Need Governance

In many ways, the government has embarked on a path breaking route, in terms of both domestic and foreign policy.

To begin with, there is the issue of fertilizer subsidies. In one fell swoop, by targeting subsidies on the basis of nutrients, the government has changed the game. Now farmers will look to nutrients other than urea. This will increase yields dramatically. Urea-based fertilizers were good and government policies championed their use. Over the years, it became clear that they had passed the point of diminishing returns. Everywhere in the world, governments promoted suplhur-based and other nutrients in the mix to increase yields and protect the soil.

With all the noise about food inflation, the government has pointed to the exploitative role of middlemen in the journey that farm products make from the fields to the market. The finance minister made several references to the need for organized retail in the grocery business, most recently at the CII national meeting in Delhi.

Coming to taxes, the finance minister, in his budget speech, cut individual taxes while increasing some indirect levies. The idea is sterling: put more money in the hands of middle class families and let them decide what they can or cannot afford. If I am considering buying a car and it costs a few thousand rupees more, it is my call. By putting economic decisions in the hands of citizens, the government has made a major paradigm shift.

On internal security, the government has made major moves. It has taken on the Maoist movement in central India with force. The most recent incident in Dantewada only underscored the Prime Minister’s six-old assessment that Maoists pose the most significant threat to national security. True, there are complaints of security forces riding roughshod over the militants. But then, Dantewada showed that the Maoists are not known for their grace and diplomacy either. This tough approach seeks not only to contain the insurgents but to send a clear message that this is a hard government that will not stomach violent agitations.

On the national security front, the government has embarked on a new course. While initiating talks with Pakistan, it authorized a major Air Force exercise in the desert of Rajasthan to demonstrate its fighting capabilities. It was a brilliant move to invite most defense attaches of diplomatic missions and to leave out the representatives of China and Pakistan. The idea clearly was to exhibit hard power.

To reinforce the government’s hard line, the Prime Minister went to Saudi Arabia and urged the authorities there to weigh in with Pakistan to control the various terrorist groups that operate from there. It’s clear the Pakistan government has neither the wherewithal nor the will to reign in various terrorist groups that have a free run within its borders. A Saudi nudge could go a long way to boost the crippled Zardari government and the rogue elements within its army and the intelligence agency.

The emphasis on infrastructure is a key feature aspect of the government’s priorities. Roads, ports, airports, railroads are being built. The trouble is that corrupt and inept government agencies are in charge and its users are citizens, who lack civic consciousness. Thus it gets caught up in the bottlenecks caused by lackadaisical enforcement and scofflaw citizens.

Many cities now have modern airports; they are like white elephants because the minute you step outside there is total chaos. It’s the same thing for the highways. We recently traveled to Chandigarh from Delhi. The road is a work in progress and there are significant flyovers and wide pavements. But there is total traffic chaos. Even as you rev to the top speed of 90 kilometers an hours, you find yourself having to deal with vehicles going the wrong way, underpowered trucks, three-wheeled vehicles, bullock carts, cycle rickshaws, handcarts, herds of cows and sheep and scariest of all, daredevil pedestrians trying to cross the highway. There is simply no policing, no signage or any other accoutrements that go with modern highways. It’s almost as though modern amenities are made available to people with a medieval mindset.

Tragedy is the police have no authority to enforce the law. Even worse, they don’t even know the law. Just recently, I stopped a police car on the spanking new expressway that connects Delhi and Gurgaon to the airports. I told the police officer that the unchecked use of the expressway by two- and three-wheeled vehicles was a major traffic violation. I told him there were signs that these vehicles were not allowed. He told me to mind my own business. The government needs also to show its hard self here as much as it is doing with the Maoists in central India.

In the end, you have a modernizing government that is beset by a crude political class, a malignant bureaucracy and a pre-modern citizenry. As such, even though the government pursues enlightened policies, the ship of state seems to be caught on the rocks of casteism, communalism and corruption.

Bureaucrats blame crass politicians and the ignorant citizenry. Politicians castigate the bureaucracy. Citizens berate politicians and bureaucrats. It’s a sort of beggar-thy-neighbor view that enables the entire system to elude responsibility. If everyone’s to blame, then nobody is accountable.

This is the challenge for India that the world deems as an up and coming power.

An edited version of this article appeared in The Times of India, April 21, 2010

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2010